the amendment against the reeligibility of the President was not proposed … how easily offices or tenures for life slide into inheritances. My wish therefore was that the President should be elected for 7. years & be ineligible afterwards … But the practice adopted I think is better allowing his continuance for 8. years with a liability to be dropped at half way of the term, making that a period of probation … And altho’ this amendment has not been made in form, yet practice seems to have established it. The example of 4 Presidents voluntarily retiring at the end of their 8th year … should a President consent to be a candidate for a 3d. election, I trust he would be rejected on this demonstration of ambitious views.
Patrick Lee’s Explanation
Leaders should not be able to lead forever.
A Bill of Rights was added to the Constitution, but the provision allowing the President to be re-elected multiple times, even for life, was not changed. The Constitutional Convention had debated a number of term lengths before settling on this one. Jefferson favored one seven year term but thought one of the Convention’s alternatives was even better, an eight year term with the possibility of dismissal half way through, in effect, similar to what we have today.
History offered too many examples of leaders whose offices became “tenures for life.” That should not be possible in America.
President Washington established the principle of self-limited leadership by retiring after two four-year terms. Jefferson and Madison built on that precedent. Monroe would follow suit. Jefferson hoped that any President who sought a 3rd term would be seen as too ambitious and be rejected for that reason alone.
This precedent continued until Franklin Roosevelt was elected four times. The 22nd Amendment, limiting the President to two terms, was adopted in 1951.